Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Away From The Spectacle And Money

So TigerBlog was wrong. Again.

Kentucky didn't beat UConn 76-64 in the NCAA final. Instead, UConn beat Kentucky 60-54 to cap a fairly memorable run to the NCAA title.

TigerBlog had long since fallen asleep by the time the Huskies won their championship. Guess he'd seen the Chris Webber commercial once too often for his brain to stay focused. Or maybe it was that commercial with the hamster as the father in the French family, the one that says "you're not nearly cool or smart enough to understand what we're doing here, so just take our word for it that we are so clever and creative."

The NCAA final was a great spectacle, the end of a tournament filled with wonderful games throughout. And UConn clearly earned its championship, right? The Huskies were on the verge of being knocked out in their first game before tying St. Joe's late and winning in OT, but from there no game was closer than five, UConn beat the No. 1 overall seed (Florida) and a No. 2 seed (Villanova) by 10 and beat the two teams with the most momentum (Michigan State and Kentucky).

Still, there were three things about this NCAA tournament that nag at TB.

First, it's complete and total proof that the regular season means little in college basketball. UConn finished third in the AAC. It got swept by SMU. It also got hot at the right time.

In college basketball, that's all that matters.

Second, there is the wild over-commercialization and spectacle that the NCAA championship has become. It's more like the Super Bowl, with 80,000 people in a football stadium. Did you see how far away from the court some of those 80,000 people were? And for astronomical prices, on top of that.

Finally, there's the whole one-and-done mentality. It may be legal and it may be effective. It's also unseemly in the world of college athletics.

Kentucky played eight players in the NCAA championship game. Of those eight, seven of them are freshmen and the other is a sophomore. Imagine how good they'll be when those freshmen are seniors, right?

Well, of course they'll never be seniors. That's the whole one-and-done idea. Come to college for a year and then go to the NBA.

TigerBlog doesn't blame any of those seven Kentucky freshmen. What choice do they have? The way the rules are currently written - by the NBA, not the NCAA - they can't go straight from high school to college.

But really, what does anything that happened last night have to do with education? It had a lot to do with money, that's for sure, and that's what's driving the whole paying athletes/unionization talk. Ironically, the Northwestern football players who started the union movement aren't looking for payment, just improved benefits.

Still, what the average member of the sporting public - or worse, lawmakers - see is the obscene amount of money that last night generates and how none of it is going to the players. How UConn coach Kevin Ollie - by all accounts a good guy - is underpaid because he only makes a little more than $1 million per year, while there was a story that TB saw yesterday that suggests that UConn star Shabazz Napier often goes to bed hungry because he doesn't have any money to buy food.

Tonight's women's championship game is fascinating on many levels as well. The UConn women are 39-0 and the Notre Dame women are 37-0, and they meet in Nashville for the title.

Of course, for years, they both couldn't be undefeated, since they were both in the Big East. Now? Notre Dame is in the ACC and UConn is in the AAC. And why? Because despite already having one NCAA basketball championship and on the verge of the other, UConn's football team wasn't attractive enough to anyone in the game of conference realignment.

Oh, and there's the whole angle of the two coaches, UConn's Geno Auriemma and ND's Muffett McGraw, who apparently don't like each other. If TB happened to be cynical, he'd suggest that the whole lack of civility angle was fabricated to generate additional interest in the game.

TigerBlog likes the NCAA tournament. He liked it more when it was played in arenas by teams loaded with seniors, not freshmen, at a time when a player like Napier wasn't the exception but the rule.

Maybe it's because back then, TB wasn't working in college athletics quite yet. Maybe it's because he does now that he hates to see all of the good things clouded by the money and the spectacle that unfortunately is the face of college athletics.

TigerBlog has a few things to get done today.

He needs to write a preview story about the baseball team's game against Monmouth tomorrow and mostly get ready for tonight's men's lacrosse game against Lehigh. You can see that game at 7:30 on ESPNU, by the way.

Princeton and Lehigh, by the way, disagree on the history of the series, as Lehigh has games against Princeton in 1940 and 1941 in its record book that Princeton does not have in its. Maybe they were played. Maybe they weren't. Lehigh thinks Princeton won both of those, so it's not like the Mountain Hawks are padding their stats.

Either way, it's been awhile since Princeton and Lehigh have played. For schools located a little over an hour apart, it seems like they could have played at some point in those 64 (or more) years.

They meet tonight as Top 20 teams who are hoping that their seasons extend into the NCAA tournament, though both have work to do to get there.

TigerBlog would much rather be at a game like this one than at the men's basketball Final Four. He's happy to stay far away from the spectacle and money.

He's not 100% sure what that says about him, other than that he's working at the right school.

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